On Earth Day 2013, I received a timely question from a dear friend. He asked for my thoughts on two competing ideas within Christendom (actually, Evangelicalism) today; the first is that we ought to be working to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth, whereas the second sees our role as limited to "saving drowning souls from the water." Here's my response:
The "saving drowning souls from a sinking ship" idea is a false one. It comes to us not from historic Christianity, but from 19th-century revivalism. Historically, Christians have remained uncertain as to whether the New Heavens and New Earth should be understood as entirely new creations or a redeeming of the existing ones. Either way, the exclusive attention to saving human souls for eternity future is only a very thin slice of the fully-orbed Gospel of the redemption Christ initiated at His first coming. To be sure, that the redemption that Christ came to institute includes the saving of human souls from eternal Hell and for eternal relationship with Him is a huge deal, and one in which we humans ought to take great interest. But Jesus' understanding--and that of the Apostles--was that all of creation was to share in that redemption.
The Kingdom of Heaven is not so much in Heaven (much less only in Heaven in a future existence) as from Heaven, and in the prayer He modeled for His disciples, Jesus begins with what should be the desire of all of His followers--that His kingdom would truly come to reign on Earth as it is in Heaven.
Col. 1:16-19 makes this point very clear: "For by Him (Christ) all things were created, in the heavens and on Earth... All things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together... For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on Earth or things in heaven." The same Greek word is used for "all things" throughout this passage, and the "all things" created by Him are the very same "all things" redeemed by and for Him through the blood of His cross.
There are any number of reasons--and lines of reasoning--to suggest that Christians of all people ought to be leading the way in taking care of the planet and the creatures (including other humans) that inhabit it. Ours ought to be the loveliest landscapes, gardens, and house plants, since all that God created brings glory to Him. We ought to be the ones standing up for those of God's creatures that are being harmed, exploited, or run into extinction.
Indeed, we are the ones who have the greatest logical grounding for conservation. Where the secular conservationist ends up appealing for the value of other species either for their potential benefit for mankind or in a sort of vague "just because," Christianity finds intrinsic value in all life (and in the inanimate parts of creation) because they are created by God, He values them, they bring Him glory, and He commanded us to steward them.
It is just plain hypocritical for Christians to claim to know and love the Creator while exploiting, abusing, or remaining apathetic to, His creation. This is evident to a younger generation, who want very little to do with a form of Christianity that cares only about a future eternity, but who can wholeheartedly embrace true Christianity, which recognizes that God is passionate about all of His creation in the here and now.
While the 'image of God' in which humankind was created entails a number of things (rationality, morality, creativity...), in its immediate context (in Gen. 1:26), the image of God in us is specifically tied to our dominion of the creation. We are to steward the creation the way God would, which is faithfully, compassionately, patiently, sacrificially...
I could go on and on, but maybe that's enough for now. Happy Earth Day, in the name of the Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ!